In 1927, the author Dhan Gopal Mukerji published a slim novel, Gay Neck: The Story of a Pigeon, which follows the adventures of the titular Calcutta carrier bird, and the bird’s young owner, Ghond. Gay Neck (referring to the bird’s Bengali name, Chitra Griva) sympathetically portrays a bond between a young boy and his beloved pigeon as they encounter hawks and tigers in the jungles of Bengal and elude German fire in France during World War I. “The message implicit in the book is that man and the winged animals are brothers,” Mukerji explained in an interview published in Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955.
Gay Neck is as informative as it is lyrical and profound. Mukerji not only traces the bird’s flight patterns and mating with exacting insight, but he also allows the bird to “speak” directly to the reader. “It is not hard for us to understand him,” the first-person narrator says of the pigeon, “if we use the grammar of fancy and the dictionary of the imagination.” In a deeper sense, the novel is a meditation on courage and redemption in a time of war. When Gay Neck and Ghond return to India after their military service, they are battle-scarred. “I need to be healed of fear and hate,” Ghond says. “I saw too much killing of man by man.” War leaves Gay Neck fearful and unable to fly. But with the help of the lamas in a Buddhist monastery deep in the Himalayas, the duo overcome their wartime fears and find inner peace.